Caviar figures smell fishy, conservation groups claim –

Caviar figures smell fishy, conservation groups claim Published:  09 February, 2007

CONSERVATION organisations have expressed concern over the lifting of a ban on certain caviar exports.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has lifted a one-year ban on exports of caviar from stocks of beluga sturgeon and two species of sturgeon from the Amur River basin.

WWF and TRAFFIC are concerned that the decision is not based on catch quotas established by the Russian Federation for 2007. As a result, the two environmental organisations are encouraging countries not to import caviar from these sturgeon stocks until the precise scientific and legal basis upon which these quotas were made are clarified.

“Catch quotas for beluga sturgeons and sturgeons from the Amur River have been established for scientific and restocking purposes only, so it is unclear what figures the commercial export quotas from Russia are based upon,” said Alexey Vaisman, Senior Programme Officer at TRAFFIC Russia.

According to TRAFFIC, there have been no commercial quotas established for either kaluga (Huso dauricus) or Amur sturgeon (Acipenser schrenkii) in recent years, and the catch for scientific purposes was set at 14 and 3 tonnes respectively in 2007. This represents about 1,120kg of kaluga caviar and around 300kg of caviar from Amur sturgeon. The declared export quotas are 2,560kg and 1,900kg, respectively.

It is unclear if any of these quotas include caviar harvested or processed in the preceding year, which is not allowed under CITES.

WWF and TRAFFIC also note that export quotas from Russia for Russian sturgeon (A. gueldenstaedtii) were increased from 14,000kg in 2005 to 20,000kg this year. The catch quota (landed weight of the fish) for this species, however, decreased from 230 tonnes in 2005 to 110 tonnes in 2007. It is believed this significant increase in the export of caviar in 2007 is due to plans to decrease the amount of roe used in hatcheries for artificial reproduction.

“This will be of serious concern for the Russian sturgeon, which is almost completely dependent on artificial reproduction for its survival,” Vaisman said. “More than half their spawning grounds are cut off by dams, and the Lower Volga is practically devoid of mature females because of illegal fishing.”

According to WWF and TRAFFIC, Russia has yet to implement a standard labelling system for its caviar exports. CITES recommends that parties to the international convention should not accept shipments of caviar unless they comply with the provisions of its universal labelling system for caviar.

Range states around the Caspian Sea — Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan — have agreed a combined export quota of 3,761kg of beluga caviar in 2007, this is 29% lower than in 2005 when trade in this product was last permitted.

The 2007 export quotas for caviar from Russia are: beluga (Huso huso) 700kg; Russian sturgeon (A. gueldenstadtii) 20,000kg (up from 14,000kg in 2005); stellate sturgeon (A. stellatus) 3,500kg; kaluga (Huso dauricus) 2,560kg; and Amur sturgeon (A. schrenckii) 1,900kg. All five species are classified by IUCN as “endangered”.

The conservation organisations say that although the levels of trade of beluga and Amur River sturgeons proposed is lower than those of other sturgeon species, they are relatively high considering the small and dwindling populations of these species currently.

“Such high quotas will have a disastrous impact on the survival of these species,” Vaisman warned. “Each kilo of caviar represents ten kilogrammes of live fish.”

“All decisions regarding trade in sturgeon must be based on the most reliable, accurate and up-to-date and scientific information including knowledge of domestic trade levels, wild sturgeon populations, efficiency of restocking programmes and levels of illegal trade,” he added.

“Countries should not import sturgeon from these stocks until Russia further clarifies the scientific and legal basis upon which these quotas were made.” is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.